Reel Critics: ‘After Earth’ not quite out of this world

Jaden and Will Smith
Jaden Smith, left, and WIll Smith star in Columbia Pictures’ movie “After Earth.”
(Frank Masi | Columbia Pictures)

Will Smith is a one-man Hollywood blockbuster. His huge financial success has earned him the right to create a vanity film project. He has taken that opportunity to create “After Earth,” a sci-fi adventure that functions primarily as a star-making vehicle for his teenage son, Jaden.

Smith wrote, produced and stars in the movie set a thousand years in the future with Scientology overtones. The heavy back story has mankind abandoning Earth for a new planet. Smith plays a general in the military protecting the remaining humans on their new home. He takes his son on a routine mission with his unit.

Their spacecraft ends up crash-landing on the now-forbidding earth. Only the general and his son survive the crash. The son must retrieve a rescue beacon from the tail section of the wreckage,s miles away from his injured father. Carnivorous predators block his path.

Jaden Smith is hard to believe in the heroic role he is asked to play. He is only 14 years old yet looks and sounds even younger. But the perils he faces are real, and the special effects are impressive. The exploits that follow should be enough to entertain admirers of Will Smith and high-tech fantasy films.



Sleight of hand, slight of logic

I was so intrigued by the idea for “Now You See Me” — combining magic with a bank heist seems pure genius.

This is a cleverly staged, all-stops-out thriller that mystifies like that little rabbit out of a hat trick. It’s a bubbly cocktail of “The Prestige” and “Ocean’s Eleven” and a whole lot of smoke and mirrors. Just don’t expect it all to make sense.


A mentalist (Woody Harrelson), an escape artist (Isla Fisher), a “pick a card” trickster (Jesse Eisenberg) and a clever con/pickpocket (Dave Franco) are invited to work with a mysterious person who’s totally into holograms.

One year later, these four become a sensation when millions of euros from a Paris bank vault are somehow transported to a Vegas showroom. What a sight to see all that money raining down on a frenzied audience. Oprah would have been jealous.

And the FBI and Interpol are furious — how did these guys pull such a stunt, if it really happened? That’s one of many riddles for a rather inept agent (Mark Ruffalo) and chic French investigator (Mélanie Laurent) to solve. Their efforts fail dismally, but not without some spectacular effects and rousing chases.

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and the rest of the ensemble seem to be having as much fun as the audience. “Now You See Me” works, even though it shouldn’t. Guess that’s what magic is all about.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender’s office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.